Kimberly Marselas

The news out of Washington, DC, over the last few weeks has been nearly non-stop, providing what feels like an unusually high number of nursing home talking points.

Among the LTC topics lawmakers have publicly addressed or introduced legislation on are nurse-aide training lockouts, state surveying delays, immigration reform and waivers of some nurse-aide certification requirements. 

And Wednesday, House members have scheduled what could be a new opportunity to drag nursing homes through the mud over their perceived response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During a hearing before the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, patient advocates, nursing experts and a union-supplied frontline worker will address “the challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has posed to nursing home residents and staff and what measures can be adopted to ensure nursing homes are better equipped to protect residents and staff in the future.”

Let’s see what shakes out, but I find it telling that, in a hearing all about nursing homes, none will be represented on the witness panel.

Of course, some late attention is better than no attention. Nursing homes have been crying out for pandemic help since March of 2020. But they’ve often found themselves overlooked in favor of other care settings or political blame games. No one (besides providers themselves) seemed to care then about the potential impacts of too little regulatory relief, better infection control support or more financial aid from the federal government.

So why all the rushed interest in all of these topics? C’mon, you’ve seen the ads! It’s election season, of course, with all 435 House seats technically up for grabs.

There’s simply no better time to appear interested in shoring up a crumbling segment of the healthcare system, especially one so depended upon by America’s seniors, i.e. likely voters.

We all know that very little of this activity — shall we call it posturing? — stands a chance of amounting to real action. 

House members leave Washington and head back to their district offices at month’s end to focus on campaigning. Between now and then, both chambers likely will be focused on passing a continuing resolution that keeps most of the government open. That mini budget won’t last too long, however, and Congress will almost certainly need to take up a long-term budget solution as its main December task. 

So that promising hearing on immigration and those bipartisan bills offering glimmers of hope for various regulatory relief? You can pretty much expect them to die a quiet death as soon as there’s no one left needing to drum up election support.

Honestly, in a year in which the Supreme Court has blown up the abortion issue and the struggling economy remains front and center in nearly every voter’s mind, I’m surprised nursing home reform of any kind has gotten any traction at all.

Maybe that actually does bode well for the next session of Congress, assuming enough of the right candidates get sent back to Washington.

We’ve seen several bills reintroduced this session after dying a similar quiet death in 2021. Maybe the third time will be the charm. Let’s just hope Congress can eke out some substantial changes before too many more nursing homes are left to wither up and die themselves.

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.